By Zack Klapman.
A hot hatchback is one of the best kinds of car available. It combines storage capacity that (generally) outdoes its sedan counterparts with a driving experience that trunk-bearers of similar price point can’t keep up with.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST
Take the 2014 Fiesta ST, Ford’s mini-me to the current FWD king: the incredible Focus ST. It starts at $21,400, a bit more if you want the optional (and excellent) RECARO seats (you want them, trust me). This little car can make 5 people laugh and scream so loudly, possesses such grip, and has such a wonderful ability to rotate mid-corner, that people will think you’re giving ride-a-longs in a 4-door Ferrari that dispenses ice cream.
I fell in love with the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST during a special day in the canyons. I was part of a group which included a Cayman, 911, Corvette, CLA 45AMG, BMW M5, BMW 320i, and Panamera 4S, all of which were brand new, and all of which I drove. On that day, on that tight road, the Fiesta was the crowd favorite. Why was this car, which cost a fraction of the rest and packed hundreds fewer horsepower, the chosen one? Because its performance -which is quite strong- is applicable everyday.
The steering feels good and is extremely responsive. Turn-in is fast. This is a FWD car that wants to hoon. Its 1.6L turbo-charged engine makes an impressive 197HP and 202ft-lbs of torque, enough to go 140MPH, but not enough to get you into trouble if you add too much pepper on your hometown road. Make that mistake in that M5, and you’re soaring over trees, until gravity notices your defiance.
60MPH takes a quick 6.4 seconds. It’s a potent engine, but also gets 35MPG highway. The 6-speed manual transmission feels good. The interior packs what you need into an attractive black package, and Ford’s SYNC system comes standard. Fold the seats down and it’ll hold 25 cu. ft. of stuff, not as much as the Sonic, but it’ll impress you. The 2014 Ford Fiesta ST the definitive hot hatch: quick, playful, practical.
2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo
So if the Fiesta is the ‘bees knees’, then why is the Sonic even here? Well, besides being a direct competitor, the Sonic undercuts the Ford’s price by $3,000, while offering better fuel economy (40MPG highway) and –despite having the same exterior measurements- almost double the cargo capacity (47cu. ft.).
Its combustible frugality is due to its engine, which is a smaller 1.4L turbo making only 138HP. When I drove the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, it felt like there was some extra power that went un-reported, possibly from the 148ft-lbs of torque peaking at 2,500 RPM. It’s not fast, but it’s acceptable, and that’s coming from an idiot lead foot like me.
The interior of my test car was three-toned: black, a reddish brown, and grey; that touch of color made a good impression. Good paint on a simple house helps. The motorcycle-style gauge cluster is no gimmick; they expedite information about speed and RPM fast than any gauge cluster out there. However, there are two downsides inside. The first are the seats, which have the lateral bolstering of a table. Mountain roads mean securing yourself with pitons and a climbing harness, lest you slide out the window. Secondly was the center stack, whose round dials looked aged. And there were those cubbyholes flanking the radio, which I can’t see a use for other than as a forwarding address for letters.
Otherwise, the Sonic has the supple, grounded ride of a VW GTI (a compliment). It leans a bit, but it’s fun enough in the turns, and it’s cheaper. If your main focus is functionality, the Sonic’s space and efficiency are superior. I, however, have never been called a rational person, and it would be hard to pass up on 60HP for the sake of luggage space. The $3,000 savings might be on your mind, but if you love driving, you will feel like Ford should be asking much, much more.